What is the Difference Between a Security Playbook and a Runbook?
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What is the Difference Between a Security Playbook and a Runbook?

  • Security Orchestration Automation and Response

Posted on: November 04, 2020

What is the Difference Between a Security Playbook and a Runbook?
With security teams’ increasing dependence on automation platforms, it is imperative to maintain the processes running through those platforms. For documenting and defining the security processes, security teams utilize the concept of playbooks and runbooks that help them simplify their tasks. Though both of the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they have distinct differences. However, they can be used together in helping security teams deliver a more effective incident response. In this guide, you can learn how the concept of "playbook vs runbook" pans out in day-to-day security operations for security analysts.

What is a Security Playbook?

A security playbook is a list of required steps and actions needed to successfully respond to any incident or threat. Playbooks provide a step-by-step approach to orchestration, helping security teams to establish standardized incident response processes and ensuring the steps are followed in compliance with regulatory frameworks. Though security playbooks hold up for manual processes as well as automated actions, most security teams tend to employ playbooks for documenting processes carried out manually.

Basically, a playbook is a document comprising workflows, operating procedures, and cultural values required to approach and complete tasks in a consistent way. In a broader sense, playbooks offer a comprehensive guide to organizations, including their company overview, mission, and vision. A well-defined playbook keeps an organization up and running and provides backup plans when something goes out of hand.

A playbook can take many forms based on an organization’s size and type. For instance, a playbook for a smaller company might consist of an organizational chart exhibiting its current reporting structure, business policies, and company emails. Often, larger organizations take a more elaborative approach with department-specific playbooks.

How do Security Playbooks Work?

SOAR platform features a diverse range of playbooks based on industry best practices and standards. Leading SOAR platforms to come with ready-to-use SOC playbook templates that can be quickly put into action to automate responses to frequent threats, including phishing, malware, and so on.

Furthermore, organizations can build customized or advanced playbooks, which gives security teams the flexibility to respond when they see fit, ensuring regulatory compliance. For organizations unsure about automation, playbooks can be customized to undertake automatic enrichment actions while also fulfilling role-based security demands requiring authorization for containment. These capabilities support fully- and semi-automated actions providing security teams the ability to identify the level of automation required at every phase of the response process, with the final decision made by a human analyst if needed. For example, a playbook for malware analysis covers every stage of the response process from detection and investigation to containment and remediation.

What is a Security Runbook?

A security runbook is a series of conditional steps required to automatically perform actions, such as data enrichment, threat containment, and more as part of incident response or security operations processes. This aids in the evaluation, analysis, and containment of threats, accelerating the overall incident response process. Moreover, runbooks can include the necessary human decision-making elements depending on the steps needed within the process and the kind of automation being leveraged in an organization. Similar to SOC playbook templates, runbooks also come with out-of-the-box templates that can be utilized to automatically allocate tasks to human analysts; however, most runbooks are action-based.

In simpler words, a security runbook is a document comprising proper background information and procedures to successfully execute security-related tasks or address incidents. Runbooks have a standardized format to bring consistency and enable security teams to follow relevant processes or tasks. 

Using a runbook, security teams can identify an issue, outline that issue’s behaviors, study the steps to mitigate the issue, delineate tests to support issue resolution, state escalation criteria when the team needs assistance, and much more.

Organizing a process into a runbook provides numerous benefits. With the help of runbooks, new staff can learn about complex tasks and handle critical incidents with minimum training. Also, existing staff can effortlessly evaluate incident processes to maintain effectiveness. Documented processes stimulate consistent responses, ensuring that security teams handle similar tasks or incidents in a similar fashion. This reduces errors and inaccuracies while maintaining the security posture of an organization. Lastly, runbooks can consolidate an organization’s business continuity processes or compliance.

How do Runbooks Work?

Security runbooks can automate and carry out the early-stage processes of evaluating and examining security incidents until a human analyst is needed to intervene. They can automate the threat management operations from detection and triage to investigation and containment. For example, in a spearphishing runbook, indicators are extracted from the phishing email, checked through different threat services, and subsequently, blocked if they are found malicious.

Numerous automated actions offer workflows and perform varied data enrichment, containment, and custom actions based on informed decision-making. This speeds up the capability of security to assess, analyze, and hunt for threats. Further, security runbooks gather and accelerate knowledge transfer between security operations and incident response teams.

Playbook vs Runbook

Despite their differences, playbooks and runbooks can be interconnected together to respond more effectively to threats or incidents. Collectively, they allow security teams to achieve repeatable, enforceable, and effective incident response workflows, orchestrating numerous different security systems in a seamless incident response process.

When used together, security playbooks and runbooks provide security teams with flexible ways of orchestrating complex security workflows. Security teams can use a combination of playbooks and runbooks to document disparate security processes, depending on which solution suits the process being documented. Multiple playbooks and runbooks can be assigned to a single incident, delivering a proper level of orchestration and automation to each incident type. In a nutshell, organizations can implement both playbooks and runbooks within security automation platforms to minimize dependence on human skills.